Southern Travel Seminar Blog by Sami Vadakin and Emily Newton
Our week started with internships as usual on Monday. Knowing that goodbye was coming soon, I (Sami) took the time to cherish every moment left I had with the kids and my coworkers at Family of Hope Services. On Wednesday, Professor Ndamanomhata and Ndaku took the religion class on a field trip to visit two different pre-schools in Windhoek. We first visited Kabila Village, where young children playing on a playground stopped what they were doing to greet us. A staff of six, some of whom teach the children while the others maintained the school’s garden, runs Kabila Village. Next, we went to Kilinjaro Village. We visited two different classrooms, each with children eager to sing us songs. Before departing, we stopped in the kitchen where we purchased freshly made bread. After saying goodbye, we loaded up into the van and were touched when all the children began running after the bus. I personally really enjoyed the preschool visits. It seemed to me that all of the teachers we met were good at making the best of limited resources, as well as managing their large groups of young children. I also thought it was so interesting that both schools had an additional side business. At Kabila Village the garden is used to help feed the children. At Kilinjaro Village, bread was sold on the market to raise funds for the schools. I found them both to be very resourceful.
On Thursday, the history class gave historical comparison presentations. I found Elise, Colin, and Amanda’s project to be especially intriguing. The group designed a jeopardy game, asking historical questions regarding racism and housing inequality in the United States and Southern Africa. I felt the game effectively demonstrated the existence of spatial inequality. Their presentation, along with the rest of our projects, really got me thinking about the lingering effects of racism today. I think that prior to my study abroad experience, I really could not begin to grasp the degree to which racism still exists. Prior to the trip, I understood there is definite evidence of racism today in the U.S. However, I did not comprehend the feeling of belonging to a minority. My experience has shed light on this feeling, and given me empathy for minorities in the United States. Racial equality may be institutionalized but that does not mean it is actualized in social reality. Romanus’ history class has given me the opportunity to see that the ‘white man’s world’ is not unique to the United States. White oppression has been experienced globally in a variety of contexts. What I wonder is how long it will take for social, economic, and political power to be even distributed across races. And am I dreaming too big if I can even think it will someday happen?
After history class, our weekend adventure to the south began. We arrived at Ganigobes Community Campsite just before dusk. The absolutely gorgeous site is perched on a hill overlooking Fish River. After setting up our tents and while we waited for dinner, CGE staff and students gathered around a fire, admiring quite possibly some of the brightest stars we’ve witnessed in Namibia.
Waking up to the rising sun and the smell of a burning fire will be one of my (Emily’s) favorite memories of Namibia thus far. After sleeping so soundly at the Ganigobes Community Campsite, we had a mini-class session where we discussed the topic of Community Based Natural Resource Management. Linda facilitated the discussion, prompting students to question the definition of sustainable development: sustainable for how long? For whom? In what context? We quickly realized that one simple sentence cannot possibly begin to describe the process of sustainability or appropriate usage of resources.
After discussing the theme for the next few days, a community member from the Ganigobes Community Campsite briefed us about the area. He explained that despite its opening in May of 2010, we were the site’s first guests. We started questioning how it could be that no other people have visited the beautiful, pristine campsite. We began to learn that other community campsites have similar issues of attracting visitors because of lack of advertising, funding, and marketing; these pose serious restraints to the success of community campsites. Throughout the weekend, our group started to reflect on why so few people came to community run campsites we were visiting.
Next we departed for Keetmanshoop to be met by representatives from the Namibia Development Trust and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. We learned that southern conservancies are very low on funds because of the inability to attract tourists to the area; this is partly because of the absence of trophy hunting. Because of the lack of funding, we wondered, will some of these conservancies cease to exist? We also questioned if the lack of funding was related to Namibia’s recent classification as an upper middle income country. I (Emily) have seen the legacy of this categorization through my experience as an intern at the NANGOF Trust. In particular, many civil society organizations are unable to fulfill their mandates, visions, and goals because of a lack of funding. My internship supervisor explained to me that even though many people in Namibia are in the same if not worse economic situations than prior to independence, international funders may not see Namibia as viable for donations. This makes it difficult for places like southern conservancies to continue to operate and thrive.
Our next day was spent with Petrus Fleermuys at the Brukkaros Community Campsite. Waking up with the sun, we prepared to hike to the top of the Brukkaros Mountain with Petrus and the Berseba student choir. We were so lucky not only to have our own tour guide leading us up the long and windy path, but also to have the opportunity to speak candidly with students about their experiences in Namibia. Together we discussed topics like school, family, and our thoughts about Namibia. After three hours, the smoldering heat and bright sun, we reached the summit. We could see out for miles and miles – it was absolute bliss! Sitting on top of the mountain with our new friends made me so thankful for the experience I have had in Namibia. Although I felt so small in comparison to the natural world, yet empowered with the knowledge I have accumulated the last few months. Not only have I learned from classes, lectures, and presentations, but I have understood so many new perspectives from talking candidly with Namibians such as the Berseba student choir. I feel motivated to be part of a lasting change.
After our hike, we were able to spend more time with our new friends as we shared lunch at the Berseba School. Petrus so graciously thanked us for staying at the campsite, and even played his trumpet while the school children sang us two songs: one in Nama and one in English. As we were leaving, it started to rain; I almost thought of this as a metaphor for our departure. We had such an idyllic time climbing the mountain, talking with students, and learning more about community campsites. Berseba was sad for our exit.
Our next day was spent at the Gondwana Kalahari Anib Lodge where a representative spoke to us about the running of the campsite. We were shocked to learn that the Lodge receives around 30,000 guests per year whereas the community campsites receive around 40-50 guests per year. Questions started circling our heads, such as what enables one lodge to be so successful whereas another can barely survive? What role do international NGOs play in enabling or inhibiting success? All these questions looped back to our initial discussion on the first day of the travel seminar – what does sustainable development really mean and can it be sufficiently achieved? These open ended questions could not be easily answered, and we will continue to think about them the next couple of weeks as the semester comes to an end.